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How is Czech Republic meeting EU criteria?

Czech officials admit that the Czech Republic is not doing well in trying to meet criteria of membership in the European Union. The country has been politically paralyzed since 1996, when the parliamentary elections produced a deadlock. Ever since the Czech Republic has had only minority governments that have been unable to restart economic, legal and other reforms.

In looking at individual candidate countries, the EU evaluates areas such as the political system, the state of the economy, the harmonization of a candidate country’s legal system with that of the EU, and the ability of each candidate country to actually implement the adopted legislation and various EU regulations.

Some Czech officials, including the country’s chief negotiator, Pavel Telicka, argue that the Czech Republic performs quite well when it comes to the negotiation process itself. Indeed, the Czech Republic has been able to close negotiations on approximately the same number of “chapters” as other leading candidates for EU membership. Each chapter deals with a specific area; candidate countries have to show that they have brought, or will bring, their standards in that particular area in line with those of the EU.

The number of “closed” chapters, however, says little about the real preparedness of a particular country to become an EU member. The EU can reopen any chapter if it feels that the candidate country is failing to meet deadlines for rectifying various problems. Moreover, the EU also evaluates the performance of each country in general terms. The last year’s report of the EU Commission on the Czech Republic contained scathing criticism.

The EU objected, above all, to the slow and inefficient work of Czech courts; the unreformed state administration system; the lack of decentralization; the unfinished process of enterprise restructuring; the slow pace of bank privatization; and the treatment of the Roma minority. The next report will be issued in October or November 1999.

Since the last report, the Czech Republic has not done much to rectify EU concerns. The government has managed to privatize one major bank and produce a controversial revitalization program for the economy (which has not been implemented yet), but not much has happened in other areas. Major reforms of the judiciary are being prepared but they will not be completed before the next EU report is issued.

In June the Social Democratic government has submitted to the parliament a number of bills in what it termed a “legislative storm” aimed at bringing Czech and EU standards in line in many areas. However, many of those bills will not be approved in time to be reflected in the next EU report; and many may not be approved at all, as the minority government does not have enough support in the parliament. The government’s biggest success so far is the adoption of the European Charter of Social Right--despite the fact it was bitterly opposed by the biggest right-of-center party, the Civic Democratic party of Vaclav Klaus.

The biggest problem of the Czech Republic may not in the end be its ability to adopt necessary laws but its ability to implement them. The government has postponed reforms of the civil service system until after the year 2,000. The decentralization of the Czech Republic, which would result in the creation of 14 regions, is planned for the year 2,000 but a number of laws still need to passed if such a step is indeed to happen. The system of civil service is thus likely to remain unprofessional, politicized, centralized and cumbersome for several years to come. The state bureaucracy may not be able to actually start implementing numerous EU regulations and new laws. The EU is not likely to let that pass without criticism.

Reuters, Prague Business Journal - 4. 8. 1999